#tbt my history with history

The photo above has me in the center. Circa 1976- 1977. It has just been too long that sadly, I don’t remember the exact date.

Where am I? At one of my favorite historic sites on earth. Historic Harriton House in Bryn Mawr. I think technically, my friends and I at the time, beat Chef Walter Staib into the kitchen there by a few decades.

When we first moved to the Main Line from Society Hill, I missed the history and old houses of Society Hill. Yes, I was kind of obsessed by old houses even then. So neighbors introduced our family to historic Harriton House. And as a related sidenote, Historic Harriton House is a remarkable story of preservation. I urge everyone to take the time to go visit. The site is a little slice of heaven.

Before we moved from the city to suburbia, I also did something kind of historically minded for a kid.

At 11, I was probably the youngest volunteer tour guide the Park Service ever had in Society Hill. I gave tours of the Todd House and Bishop White House. In Colonial garb with a little mob cap.

How? Well my parents knew Hobie Cawood. Mr. Cawood was the Superintendent of Independence National Historical Park from 1971-1991. I wrote about this before.

But this is just something I have always loved since I was a kid. Our history, our architecture, our old houses.

I am not a new house person. I am a preserve the old house person. It’s just the way I am made. I am a realist and I don’t think every old house can be saved, but I think a lot more can be saved then are actually being saved.

Whenever I have these conversations with anyone about historic preservation, I go back to my childhood in Society Hill. And the reason is simple: that area was a total slum when people like my parents as newlyweds bought wrecks of old houses in Society Hill for peanuts from the redevelopment authority in Philadelphia.

My parents and their friends restored these houses with architectural details and hardware and windows and woodwork from houses that were too far gone to save. And as kids, a lot of the time we went with our parents when they were visiting these wrecks of houses to see what they could salvage out of them. And salvaging then wasn’t so much a big business as it was sort of a neighbor helping neighbor collaborative. People would give you the stuff out of the houses being torn down. It was a very different time.

It was through these expeditions that I learned about things like shutter dogs. Busybody mirrors. Box locks and more. The details of historical architecture which have traveled with me throughout my life.

This is where my love of old houses began. And it has been a lifelong affair.

A lot of people don’t like my opinions. And I’m sorry they don’t share my love of old houses and history. But as Americans we have a magnificent history. And we can’t just keep bulldozing it away.

Thanks for stopping by.

chester county memories

I got a comment into my blog today concerning the historic rotting house you see above. It is located on the Clews and Strawbridge property in Malvern on Lancaster Avenue in East Whiteland.

Here is the comment:

I remember when the now abandoned house next to Clews and Strawbridge was occupied by the Clews family (1970). Their daughter Sylvan was one of my closest friends. The home was filled with art and antiques, as Sylvan’s father, Mancha, was the son of a noted sculptor, and her mother Margaret ( a member of the family that founded the Strawbridge and Clothier department store), was a painter. I lost touch with Sylvan, but was somewhat amused that when I met my current husband years later, he was living almost directly across the street from that house, in Westgate Village. Now, I pass that house on my way to work almost every day, and often think about what it was like when the family lived there (and I wonder what creatures might currently be in residence, from bats to squirrels?)

This is another house that is part of Chester County’s architectural history that is just being allowed to rot.

Apparently in this county they can only build new these days. And isn’t that pathetic?

And did you know the Chester County Planning Commission has someone whose sole job has to do with the history… a “Heritage Preservation Coordinator.”

I have to wonder do they realize all the structures are out there? And do they care?

To the residents of Chester County: As someone who is somewhat new to your ranks even after a few years, I love the stories don’t stop telling them to me.

what is really going on in caln township with lloyd farm?

Many thanks to Abandoned Steve Explorations for the use of his gorgeous photo of Lloyd Farm in Caln Township.

Abandoned Steve Explorations took the glorious photo I am opening this post with. I am positively obsessed with the cool structures he covers. He was nice enough to lend us the use of this photo it’s part of an upcoming project. You can find him on Facebook , his website, and YouTube.

Lloyd Farm is haunting me. Part of a Penn Land Grant, dating its origins to the 1600s.

(See this history by Edward C. Lendrat)

Then there is the 18th Century farmhouse with an equally historic 1901 addition.

What am I talking about? 1757 was when the farmhouse was originally built and 1910 when the Lloyd family commissioned Gilbert McIlvaine the Philadelphia architect to build a “modern” addition that paid homage and melded with the original farmhouse. Mr. McIlvaine maintained a home in Downingtown for many years and was also active in the Boy Scouts founding several troops I am told in Chester County.

Back to Lloyd Farm…except the people who have called it home or who had something to do with it are important to the very fabric of Lloyd Farm’s history.

Yesterday I learned surprising news when a copy of an old historic preservation application was unearthed from the early 1980s – possibly 1982. Yes – seriously – Lloyd Farm Application for Historic Designation: PA Historic Resource Form Circa 1982.

From this form we learned quite a few things including that Lloyd Farm around or before the Civil War was a freaking stop on the Underground Railroad!

It’s just crazy and you have to ask what in the heck is going on in Caln Township? How long have these commissioners known the history of Lloyd Farm and why didn’t that historic designation proceed? Why wasn’t it pursued for a national historical status?

Did I mention the demolition permit? There is one. And what is with the date mismatch in that letter thing?

I don’t live in Caln. I do know amusingly enough like Lower Merion Township , it’s a First Class Township. But who runs the Township? Because it surely doesn’t seem like the elected commissioners does it? I know in Lower Merion Township years ago because I was part of it when the residents rose up after having had enough over the threat of eminent domain for private gain in Ardmore that we flipped half of the board of commissioners in one election.

And Caln residents are upset about this.

Really upset.

I want to know why the developer wants to tear down the house don’t you? Is this going to be like the death of Addison Mizner’s La Ronda in Bryn Mawr, PA? A case where a magnificent home was torn down for salvage just because someone could?

Caln resident submitted photo.

Look at the historic comparables in Chester County that are actually getting saved and restored: West Whiteland Inn, Exton. Benjamin Jacobs House, Exton. Fox Chase Inn and Barn, Exton. Linden Hall, Malvern (even if I don’t like some of what is being done it’s being saved, finally.) Loch Aerie, Malvern. The Jenny Lind House, Yellow Springs Village.

Also to be considered? Several Toll Brothers projects including in Chester County where similar vintage farmhouses and/or barns have been or are being saved. Now it is no secret how I feel about Toll Brothers developments, but if even they can preserve historic structures on properties they are developing why couldn’t the developer for Lloyd Farm do that? Or why couldn’t they contemplate something like selling off the farmhouse with a small plot of land around it to someone who might want to preserve it and live in it or something like that?

Caln resident submitted photo.

I don’t have the answers and every day I have more and more questions. This is one of those situations I just don’t get it. I just don’t get what is going on here. I don’t understand why this property isn’t more valued for the centuries of history involved here?

Our history should not always belong to the wrecking ball.

That’s all I have got.

#SaveLloydFarm #ThisPlaceMatters

Caln resident submitted photo.

historic philadelphia tour guide memories

I love Philadelphia history. As a child born in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia in the 1960s I was literally raised in it, with it, immersed in it.

My late father worked on the Continental Congress reenactment. That was 1974. It was super cool. I remember it. We got to meet Jimmy and Roslyn Carter before he was President among others. (I found a video on YouTube about it, actually .) The First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in the autumn of 1774, so in 1974 in advance of the US Bicentennial, there was this reenactment.

Circa 1975 I was 11. And my parents somehow convinced the then Superintendent of Independence National Historic Park, Hobart Cawood, to let me be a volunteer tour guide of the Todd House (Dolly Todd Madison’s Philadelphia home way before she was a First Lady- I was obsessed with her as a kid and even have a China doll my mother made for me from a kit still), and the Bishop White House (the Philadelphia one, not the Rose Tree one White sent his family to during the Yellow Fever outbreak in late 18th Century.)

I gave my tours in Colonial garb. My mother made me a costume that included a mob cap (from a pattern similar to the one above I saw on eBay). I was a kid, but I loved Philadelphia history so I did research and made sure what I said was historically accurate. Grown-ups who took my tour told me then that my tour was better and more interesting than a lot of the grown-ups like Park Service folk giving tours. Regular lay volunteers were nice to me the precocious kid. Actual Park Service guides? Mmmm they tolerated me. Sort of.

Hobie Cawood allowed me to have memories to carry with me forever. It was a magical experience. Better than any camp I could have gone to that summer.

Around the same time I also helped a Philadelphia gardener named Bill Spann plant the kitchen garden at the Todd House. I contributed one of the plants to the garden from my own garden – Irish Camphor. My paternal grandmother had smuggled it home from a trip to Ireland and gave me a piece to grow, and I split part of my plant and donated some to this garden which was planted then to be historically accurate for a Colonial kitchen garden. I do not know if they still have a garden there or not.

Flash forward to the mid 1980s and starting to look for a “real” job. One of my great aunts had been a Civil Service employee her whole life (starting in World War II) and she used to get these paper catalogs of job listings for government jobs. She used to give them to me because to her a government job was the best kind of security. I looked through one of the catalogs and they had jobs that were either GS3 or GS4 grade Park Ranger jobs at Independence National Historic Park. I applied for a job, and to my surprise, got it.

I got this job as my friends were getting ready for one last post-College summer at the beach. I didn’t really want to go to work, but my parents were insistent. I went and got my polyester Smokey The Bear uniforms (complete with hat.) I will admit Main Line friends at the time mocked me.

I remember going to report for work at the visitors’ center. As an entry level baby Park Service employee, I had orientation and also shadowed park ranger tour guides and was tasked with also creating my own tour. I went back to my first Independence National Historic Park first loves – the Todd and Bishop White Houses. I was shocked at how historically inaccurate or historically sloppy the tours were at that time. I actually found it depressing.

So once again, now as a young adult, I researched and created my tour. No one really checked it, but I made it historically accurate. I did not embellish. It was tough being a new kid though. The established rangers viewed new kids on the block much like you would view a pesky younger sibling and were very cliquish. I will admit that was pretty much the only job I never really made friends.

Working for the Park Service in the cradle of American liberty in the mid 1980s did come with a pass key. I happily on breaks and lunch times explored photo archives that existed on upper floors of either the First or Second Bank (I forget which.) One time I also went with people to the tippy top to the wooden bell tower where the Liberty Bell once hung. That was super cool. All around inside the bell tower at that time were the signatures of famous people and regular people who had climbed to the top. I signed my name in ball point pen near where Ronald Reagan had signed his name. I have no idea if my signature or even his and others still exist as restoration work was done a few years ago.

In the post 9/11 world, I doubt as a Park Service employee that you can just wander at will like you once could. One of the drawbacks which I don’t know if it has changed was dealing with the unbalanced and homeless who frequented the historic sites. That was hard and sad.

I will admit that while I loved giving tours of my favorite houses from my childhood and it was a kick, I hated the job. I hated the scratchy and super ugly polyester uniform. I did not like the government worker cliques I encountered. So I maybe lasted a couple of months. And I quit and much to my parent’s anger, went back to the beach for the majority of one last summer.

Many years passed and I remember another time years ago now doing the tourist thing with a friend in from out of town. I remember taking them down to the Independence Hall area. We went on a tour of houses, Independence Hall, Carpenter’s Hall, and even a carriage ride tour. It was so historically OFF that to this day, I have never recommended those tours again. I recommend self-touring.

Well, in April’s Philadelphia Magazine there is an article about these tours. It’s worth reading. Thanks for stopping by and below is a very small excerpt:

Fact-Checking Philly History Tours: Truths, Half-Truths and Truthiness
Philadelphia Magazine
By Don Steinberg


….Sightseeing tours of historic Philadelphia are like blizzards of candy factoids raining from the sky. As the landmarks whiz by, guides shower visiting pilgrims with history-book facts, anecdotes about the founding fathers, incredible backstories about public art, impressive and begging-for-fact-check firsts and biggests and oldests….It turns out not every truth, at least when it comes to Philadelphia history tours, is self-evident. Based on my small sample size, I’m putting it at about 83 percent. That means — good news! — our city sightseeing tours are mostly accurate. But there’s still a fertile area of dare-you-to-disprove sketchiness and just enough whacked-out face-palmers to keep the city’s vital tourist audience entertained. What could be more American?

Ten years ago, Philadelphia City Council passed a law, and mayor Michael Nutter signed it, that said anybody who wanted to give a paid sightseeing tour in Center City had to pass a Philadelphia history test to get a license. That ordinance remains on the books, and this April we celebrate the 10th anniversary of its never being enforced.

historic demolition by neglect in exton, west whiteland?

West Whiteland Township officials must wear blinders going in and out of their township building!

This is that historic farm house right as in directly across the street from them that is on the mall property at Main Street in Exton.

Wasn’t this the property that if that mall got built those structures would be saved and restored?

I actually had my husband turn around so I could take photos because we were so shocked at the dilapidated deteriorated appearance of these structures. And one side has graffiti on it as well.

The only caretakers of the property are the Canadian geese!

Chester County, we have to stop allowing elected officials and others from paying only lip service to historic preservation. It needs to mean something. We deserve better in our communities.

Oh, and now we can see shrink wrapping structures is NOT historic preservation, right?

Sign me appalled.

In 2002 The Daily Local News wrote:

Protecting history

At the Main Street at Exton site, formerly known as the Indian Run Farm, some of the county’s most historical treasures will stand beside some of the county’s largest new stores.

A case of the old meeting the new, part of the Main Street project includes the adaptive re-use of several historical buildings, one of which may be nearly 300 years old.

“It’s kind of remarkable that historical structures like this can co-exist with this type of development,” said West Whiteland Historical Commission Chairman Bruce Flannery. “I think there is an opportunity there for a something really fruitful between the township, developer and community, but that remains to be seen. We know the resources will stay. The question is how they will remain…….”Historically, the crossroads has been where some of the county’s first settlers, given land through the 1684 William Penn grant, designated by the king of England, chose to call home. Penn gave 40,000 acres of land to Welsh Quakers fleeing persecution in England.

At that time Route 100 was most likely an Indian trail, said Flannery.

The land where Main Street at Exton is being constructed was initially given to Richard Thomas, a Quaker who fled Wales with his family. The Thomas family complex was centered around the area where routes 30 and 100 now intersect.

Operating a gentleman’s farm, Richard Ashbridge, a direct descendant of Thomas, built the 1843 house, renovated in 1912, that stands at the site. Both the house and the woodcutter’s cottage, where a stone dates the building back to 1707, are class one historical structures.

“The resources on the Indian Run Farm are some of the most historical in the township,” said Flannery. “The site itself and the complex are extremely important and unique.”…..The land where the former Thomas homestead and the current Ashbridge house stand is “sacrosanct,” said Flannery. “It certainly was one of the first settlements,” he said. “It’s a really wonderful farmstead, really beautiful.”

So this is the respect for the past that the developer here has shown and West Whiteland has allowed? 16 years of demolition by neglect for what they said is one of the first settlements in the township and of paramount historical importance?!

In the spring of 2017, apparently the developer had this idea of apartments there. You can read the article in The Daily Local, and here is an excerpt:

Main Street at Exton builder Wolfson Group, plans to build a 410-unit apartment complex near Commerce Drive and next to the Exton Square Mall. The 26-room mansion is slated to become a community center .

The township has not awarded final approval for the apartment project. The property is zoned TC or Town Center.

Shoppers at Main Street at Exton have watched the historic building decay since long before it was wrapped with protective tarps in 2002. Much of the 1843 era house is now exposed to the elements as tattered tarps blow in the wind….

So….how many years does a developer have to let something stand and rot before they file for demolition permits in West Whiteland?

There is also an Abandoned Steve video on this which is quite interesting. CLICK HERE TO VIEW.

restoring architectural history in exton, pa

These are the things that make me so happy to see!

And yes, these farmhouses are indeed part of the architectural history of Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Homeowner photo – see more at https://www.facebook.com/WestWhitelandInn/

heaven on earth is home

It looks like a painting. But it is real life.  Taken a short time ago over in Westtown.  I made my last trip probably to Pete’s Produce for the season.  (They have the most fabulous pumpkins this year, but I digress.)

Heaven on earth is where we call home here in Chester County.  Traveling through the scarred battle zone of raped land of the Sunoco Logistics Pipeline horror show to get to Pete’s really made an impression today.

We as residents need to do a better job advocating for Chester County herself.  Election Day will be here in a blink.  The power of your vote is one of the greatest ways to be heard.  Those who are NOT stewards of the land need to GO.

We need more land preservation and land conservation and less development.  We need to see what can be done to save what is left of our beautiful landscapes, including from the damn pipelines.

We have an agricultural and equine heritage that needs to be saved.  We have waterways and woods and wildlife and even the humble honey bee depending on us.

We can’t just talk about it and we certainly can’t depend upon the Chester County Planning Commission.  Pretty pie-graphs and surveys just take up space on a website.  What are they doing, really?  What are the Chester County Commissioners doing, really?  Planned photo ops are good for politics, what do they actually do for all of us? The all like to say they are helping plan our future in Chester county but I ask again exactly whose futures are the planning? Mine, yours, or theirs and those who make lots of political contributions?

I was down on the Main Line a few times over the past few weeks.  I realized once again how I truly now dislike where I used to call home.  And it is not just the great pretenders to what now passes as the “social” scene.  It’s the density, the roads, the overall frantic pace and congestion.  I realized how I literally exhale when I start to feel the open sky, fields, and forest of Chester County every time I am coming home.

But we are at such risk of losing that. We are at serious risk of losing Chester County.  From the history to the land, forests, fields, water (wells, streams, lakes, everything), to the old farm houses and barns to other historic structures — we have to act.

As my friend Mindy Rhodes has wisely said via M. Jankowski “If not you, then who?”  and John Lewis  “If not now, then when?”

Think about it.  Start with who you vote for.  And what you vote for.